Prototype Creation


  • It Doesn’t Have To Look Great
  • Or Does It?
  • It Does Need to Be Legible
  • Understand That it Will Change…A Lot

Ah…prototypes. They both bring me joy and cause me a lot of trouble. I love making them. Maybe it’s the creative, artsy person in me. My wife likes to say I’m “crafty,” so it doesn’t sound like it’s girly. I don’t care. It is what it is. I’m man enough to say I like doing arts and crafts. That being said…

It Doesn’t Have to Look Great

Especially in the early stages, you have to understand that your prototype doesn’t have to look great. It can have absolutely no art. It can be on pieces of paper, post it notes, or my favorite — old playing cards and card stock that would otherwise not be used.

The prototype must simply exist first and foremost. There is no real way to move forward in game creation without it. I am a fan of what they call “getting it on the table” as fast as possible. This often means no written rules. If you can’t explain the game with spoken words, well, then you’re gonna have a tough time writing the rules as well, then still explaining them to people with spoken words regardless since you’ll be playtesting. Fun!

Or Wait. Does it Have to Look Great?

Some people insist you don’t have to have a good looking prototype if you’re still in the playtesting stage. However, I don’t think that’s entirely true. I will most likely be going to Kickstarter as an independent publisher, or at least co-publisher, of these games. Therefore, I need to attract potential customers at all times with a good-looking game that’s got some table presence.

The biggest challenge during major conventions is having a second set ready for each game, just in case the unexpected happens like you lose pieces. Or, if you’re going the publishing route, a second copy could come in handy as the publisher may want to take it with them to further consider picking up your game. If you’re like me and you’re not necessarily planning to go to a publisher, your second copy can just be a modified older copy that’s slightly messier with all the scratch outs of old text and what not. Just as long as it’s functional. Then again, I’m still considering co-publishing so maybe I do need a good second copy. *sigh*.

On a side note, people are attracted to prettier, shinier things. In some sense, there are some playtesters out there that need that in order to really experience a game. It’s best if you can convey the intended experience with as little work as possible on the prototype but still make it look good. Just keep in mind, some people may not “get” your game because it’s lacking that artistic and thematic polish. All good. Luckily, pretty much all the fellow designers I’ve come across don’t care.

The Prototype DOES Have to Be Legible

You should have a clear prototype to help direct the experience to your testers. That means at the very least it should be legible and the layout should be logical. I point this out for both those that are making bare bones prototypes and those who are pimping their prototypes out.

Pay attention to the fonts you use and the size of the text. Pay attention to where all the text is. It will not be perfect the first time around. But it at least has to be playable. If people can’t tell if a number is a 3 or an 8, that’s a 5-point difference. If they are squinting to read text, then you’re ruining their eyes and they will hate you. Okay, maybe they won’t. But maybe they will if they squinted and still mistook the “3” for an “8,” picked up the wrong card, and lost the game.

Understand That Your Prototype Will Change. A Lot

With all of the above being said, please understand that no matter how much or how little work you put into a given prototype, it will change. It will never be perfect. Not even as a finished game. Even if you think it’s perfect, there will be someone out there that will be like, “Oh, I hate that font,” or “I hate the art.”

(This is the part where I’m mainly talking to myself). Try not to spend too much time on your prototypes because they will change. Try not to be a perfectionist until it’s time to be a perfectionist. However, don’t be a slob about your work. Always strive to find that perfect harmony between prototypes that are functional, efficient to create, art that you can be proud of, and relatively inexpensive.

That being said, work efficiently and with a budget in mind. Later on I plan to touch upon skills that will help you develop prototypes faster and more efficiently, as well as some programs and methods. Until then, go get all crafty and stuff!


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